Repairing the Aral Sea

Checking in on plans to restore the body of water before it disappears entirely.

More than a decade ago, Discover reported on an $85 million project to restore what was formerly one of the world’s biggest inland bodies of water: the Aral Sea.

An oasis on the Silk Road trading route, the sea once covered more than 26,000 square miles across the heart of Central Asia, including parts of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. This all changed in the 1950s, when a Soviet irrigation project diverted river water to rice and cotton fields miles away. The system leaked, and the sea began to dry up. By the 1990s, the Aral had shrunk to less than half its former size and was dangerously salty. It was no longer one body of water, but two lobes: a smaller North Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and a larger South Aral Sea in Uzbekistan. The region’s fishing industry collapsed, and many residents fled.

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